Category Archives: Gamification

PicCollage Game Boards

The PicCollage (or PicKids) app is a versatile tool that my students have used for reflection, creating visuals for a report, and telling stories.  Recently, I’ve seen a couple of different articles on the web about students and teachers using PicCollage to make game boards.  This can range in educational value from creation for fun all of the way to another way to assess learning.  In all cases, creativity can be a part of the activity as students can personalize the boards with photos, stickers, and text.  For some examples and specific integration ideas, check out these two blog posts: “Digital Game Boards with PicCollage” and “Creating and Playing Games on PicCollage.”

Mindset Monopoly
Mindset Monopoly Game created by some of my 3rd Graders (using some Mandala images made by my 4th graders!)

Help Your Students Grow By Riding the Pokemon Flow

With the Pokemon Go craze in full swing, augmented reality for education may be generating more interest than ever before. Leveraging trends like Pokemon Go in the classroom can certainly provoke student engagement even though education wasn’t the original intent of the game.  Whether you choose to modify Pokemon Go, or use one of the many other available apps, augmented reality offers new opportunities to our students for learning – when used correctly.

About 4 years ago, my initial forays into augmented reality were all about the novelty of the technology with my students.  They certainly enjoyed those first augmented reality scavenger hunts, but I will readily admit now that more fun than learning took place at the beginning.  As I learned how to use tools to create my own augmented reality, I saw the power it could have for sharing presentations on static displays, or delivering messages from people who could not be there physically.  Sending augmented reality work by the students home to parents added another dimension to their projects.

Augmented reality that is interactive gives students the chance to have experiences, like mixing sodium and chlorine gas to make salt, or touring an estuary in Australia, that they might not usually have in many classrooms.

Ideas are already cropping up about how Pokemon Go can be used in the classroom, such as this article or these suggestions. Discovery Education also has a detailed blog post of Pokemon Go curriculum integration activities.  If you want your students to try to design their own version of Pokemon Go, let them try this Vidcode online version.  Once they start figuring out the code, have them branch out to include some of their own graphics and code that ties in to your curriculum.

If you want to branch out to other augmented reality apps and lessons, I have collected several resources here.  Katie Ann Wilson, author of Diary of a Techie Chick, has many classroom ideas here.  Shell Terrell also recently published a blog post that lists many augmented reality links.

There is no doubt that you will generate enthusiasm from your students by using augmented reality in the classroom.  However, I highly encourage you to read this article by Laura Callisen, which cautions you about the ways good educators should not use this popular trend.

Another thoughtful piece about augmented reality, by Stephen Noonoo, compares the “virtual reality” of our current classrooms to the “augmented reality” learning should reflect – with or without technology.

pokemongoI expect that the Pokemon Go mania will spawn more augmented reality apps, hopefully with education in mind.  My hope is that they will be thoughtful and encourage deep learning while retaining the fun sense of adventure fostered by Pokemon Go.

SXSWedu 2016 – How to Think and Learn Like a Futurist

I have seen Jane McGonigal present before, and I really enjoyed her message. Looking forward to another fabulous keynote address from her at SXSWedu this year, I was not disappointed.

McGonigal’s presentation was, “How to Think and Learn Like a Futurist.”  If you feel like that is impossible, then you should know that a futurist is not someone who predicts the future.  As McGonigal states, “I am making the future!”  And, “To create something now, you have to imagine how things can be different.”

A futurist does these 4 things:

  1. collects signals from the future
  2. combines signals into forecast
  3. creates personal foresight
  4. plays with the future

I can’t really do her talk justice by summarizing it here.  Suffice it to say that it involves jellybean recipes, a Mega NFL where you can earn power ups for your team by being fit, and an intriguing idea that shows a complete shift in the education paradigm, resulting in lifelong learning.

To learn more, please watch McGonigal’s keynote. Yes, it is an hour long – but she will open your mind to new possibilities and new ways of thinking.  If you teach children or have some of your own, you will be fascinated with the potential workforce and education they may may face in one or two decades.

For more information on futuristic ideas, visit the site of Institute for the Future, where Jane McGonigal works along with other inspired and creative futurists.

SXSWedu – Deeper Game-Based Learning

To see my other posts on SXSWedu 2016, please click on:

Game-based learning is something that is mentioned quite frequently in educational discussions and articles.  It is, understandably, a controversial topic – particularly when the games being used were not specifically designed for education (World of Warcraft and Minecraft, for example).

The panel at SXSWedu on Deeper Game-Based Learning consisted of two teachers, the director of the Educational Gaming Environments Group, and the author of The Game Believes in You.

Paul Darvasi, a teacher at a private school, uses a game called, “Gone Home” with his high school English class.  Darvasi is a huge proponent of game-based learning, but he does caution, “Be judicious.  Think carefully about how you integrate games into your curriculum.”  The teachers who bring games into the classroom with the intent of enriching the curriculum content and engaging students will be much more successful than those who introduce games solely for the source of entertainment.

Peggy Sheehy, who uses World of Warcraft to teach about the hero’s journey in The Hobbit,  told us that it is essential to be transparent to gain parental support.  Once parents are invited to the classroom to participate in the lesson, they recognize the value and become her biggest champions.

Both teachers believe that game-based learning has transformed their classrooms into places where students have lost their apathy and are truly participatory in their own learning.  They also agree that it allows students to receive regular feedback, and to constantly improve their learning based on that feedback.  As Sheehy explained about traditional classrooms, “When you get a 60% it means you failed, but it should mean, ‘Wow!  I mastered 60%; now let’s see how I can achieve the other 40!'”

If you want to incorporate game-based learning in your classroom, take baby-steps, according to these two teachers.  And, make sure you elicit parental support early.  Sheehy says, “Teachers are saying, ‘How do we begin?’ not ‘I don’t want to do it!'”  To which Darvasi replied that we shouldn’t “fear something we don’t do well.  We need to change the mindset.”

To see more of Sheehy’s work, you can go here.  You can also download her curriculum for free here.

If you are an elementary/middle school educator, you may want to take a good look at Zoombinis, which was developed for tablets by EDGE at TERC. TERC is a non-profit organization that includes game designers, educators, and researchers.  They are very interested in hearing from educators and developing meaningful curriculum for using games in the classroom.  I’ve had a great experience so far with using Zoombinis in the classroom, and hope to share more about specific ways to tie it in to your math curriculum in the next few months!

You may also be interested be interested in using Minecraft in an educational setting.  I recently published a post on this from a session I attended at TCEA that may have some helpful resources.

To re-iterate Darvasi’s advice, while game-based learning should be done with deliberate planning in your classroom, do not feel like you need to know everything about it before you use it.  As with many thing in education today, sometimes we are better teachers when we aren’t the experts 😉

The Game Believes in You by Greg Toppo
The Game Believes in You by Greg Toppo

Camp Wonderopolis


Many of you may be familiar with Wonderopolis, a fun site to learn about all kinds of topics that may have piqued your curiosity at one time or another – and even topics that you didn’t know might cause you to wonder.  This summer, the site is offering another free, online camp.  It looks a bit different than last year’s camp, as this year’s description suggests that you will be able to follow your own path of wonder, and there will be photo and video contests in addition to hands-on activity suggestions.  For more about Camp Wonderopolis, click here.


Go Noodle

It’s time for state-wide testing in my neck of the woods.  Even though we are not allowed to have computers on during the test, you might want to consider using GoNoodle after the test, particularly for students who have been sitting for awhile. They also recently added a feature called, “Flow,” which helps with stress.

I mentioned GoNoodle a while back in a post I did on “Physical Ways to Survive the Week Before Winter Break.”  Shortly afterward, I started meeting with my new Kinder GT students twice a week.  On Fridays, they miss Kinder Cafe (when the students go to the gym once a week to dance to different songs) to come to my class.  Last year, the students didn’t seem to mind.  But, this year I nearly had a mutiny on my hands. Even though, they only meet with me for an hour on Fridays, and we barely sit down the entire time, it was clear they needed a “Brain Break.” So, I thought I would give GoNoodle a try.

GoNoodle is free.  You can register your class (no individual student names necessary) and then get started.  It’s a fun way to gamify being physical for your entire class.  I usually choose a student randomly with Class Dojo to pick that day’s GoNoodle activity. (“Let it Go” and “Everything is Awesome” are huge favorites.) There are lots of videos to choose from – some including more physical activity than others.  Go Noodle keeps track of the time spent on the video, and gives the class points toward the next level.

The students enjoy the goofy looking characters and the silly pieces of trivia they offer.  But, of course, they enjoy the music and dancing the best.  Admittedly, not a lot of dancing goes on with “Let it Go.”  It’s actually more of a sing-along with dramatic magical gestures 🙂

If you are wondering about the appeal to older students, you might want to check out this post from @TechNinjaTodd about the way he uses GoNoodle with 5th graders.

Note: If you are in a district that blocks YouTube, you may have some trouble accessing some of the videos. Our district allows us to log-in, but the first time I tried to go directly “Be Happy” through GoNoodle without logging in, I had a group of very disappointed Kinders!

a selection of the GoNoodle Brain Breaks
a selection of the GoNoodle Brain Breaks

The Villains on Our Most UNwanted List

See below for the link for the full set of Genius Hour villains.
See below for the link for the full set of Genius Hour villains.

Last summer, I was playing around with ways to spice up my Genius Hour time, and decided to add some of the elements of gamification to the mix.  One of these was to create Challenge Cards.  At the beginning of each Genius Hour, students have the option to choose a Challenge Card.  The higher the level of the card, the more difficult the challenge is.  If they complete the challenge successfully, the students earn that number of points in Class Dojo (we use the points to Level Up and earn privileges) – but if they don’t complete the challenge, they will lose the points.  It’s been wildly successful with my 5th graders, and my 3rd and 4th graders are just about to join in on the fun.

One other gamification element I invented last summer happened to be a flyer that listed “Genius Hour Villains.” I mean, think about it – what good is a game without any villains to fight?  So, I thought about some of the obstacles my students had faced in the past during Genius Hour, and tried to personify them.  And that was when the “Genius Hour Villains” flyer was born.

I ran the Villains by my 5th graders when they started Genius Hour last Fall.  They have been referring to them ever since – particularly “Decoy Boy.”  When we reflect on Genius Hour, he seems to be the biggest culprit when it comes to the students making progress on their projects.  However, just the fact that they can identify the problem has reduced its occurrence quite a bit, compared to the students who worked on Genius Hour last year with me.

4th grade just started their Genius Hour time last week. I brought out the flyer, and went over all of the “characters” they should avoid during their research time.  They thought the characters were hysterical.  Maybe it was a coincidence, but this was the smoothest “First” Genius Hour I ever experienced.

The kids embraced the villains so much, I thought that maybe a little flyer wasn’t enough.  So, I went home this weekend and worked on a set of posters.  I wanted to make “Wanted” posters, but then I realized that these guys are actually what we don’t want in the classroom.  So, these are my (Not) Wanted posters.

The posters are now available on Teachers Pay Teachers for $2.

For more Genius Hour Resources, check out my page here.  There are more free downloadables, including the Genius Hour Challenges on that page.  Or, if you don’t feel like spending the time visiting each link, you can also purchase a set of all of my current Genius Hour downloadables for $5 on TPT.